Seeing red in a blue city

By Kelly Rix

Chicago is well-known as a Democratic Party stronghold, and neither presidential candidate is focusing much effort on reaching Illinois voters. But that isn’t stopping Chicago’s young Republicans from organizing and rallying behind their candidate, Sen. John McCain.

Young conservatives are working to get McCain’s Windy City supporters involved in his campaign and to keep the momentum up after the election and start challenging the Democratic Party’s power in Chicago.

From now until Election Day, Chicagoland McCain supporters plan to keep themselves busy. Illinois Young Professionals for McCain, Chicago Young Republicans, the Chicago Republican Party and the Cook County Republican Party are all working together to organize supporters to fight for votes in nearby battleground states, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

“Because Illinois is not a targeted state for McCain/Palin, we are trying to utilize these volunteers and make sure their efforts are put to best use, which would be their support toward our efforts in battleground states,” said Lee Roupas, chairman of the Cook County Republican Party.

The campaign is organizing “phone banks,” where volunteers make phone calls to voters on behalf of the McCain/Palin campaign, and weekend volunteer trips to Wisconsin where they will go door-to-door to speak with undecided voters, Roupas said.

Chicago resident Eric Di Silvestro, 24, has been volunteering at the Cook County Republican office and went to Wisconsin on Sept. 27 to canvass, he said.

“We went knocking on doors talking to people about what issues are

important to them and trying to get a feel for how they perceive each candidate,” Di Silvestro said. “It went really well.”

A recent graduate of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Di Silvestro said he strongly believes in feels many conservative ideals and wanted to be more involved in this election.

“I am putting my money where my mouth is [and] devoting my time and energy instead of just complaining,” Di Silvestro said. “I’m actually going out and trying to make a difference.”

The Illinois Young Professionals for McCain are also working to connect and invigorate young Republicans in the city of Chicago through a series of meet-ups and debate-watching parties, said Shawn Healy, the group’s chairman.

Because young Republicans often seem invisible in Chicago, 33-year-old Healy said he’s been surprised at the turnout his group’s events and he has seen a great deal of excitement about this election.

“I think there is this pervasive feeling that because Chicago is such a democratic place, Republicans need to unite,” Healy said. “I think it has motivated people even more … having this guy, Obama, who we’ve seen up close and really don’t think is prepared to be president.”

Chicago is a magnet for college-educated young people from throughout the Midwest who are seeking jobs and opportunities, Healy said, and often the states that people are coming from are more conservative. They gravitate toward like-minded young people in the city, like those in Healy’s organization, he said.

“I encourage the people who support McCain to stand up and be proud,” Healy said. “We have a candidate we are very proud of too, and we shouldn’t be bashful about that.”

To young conservatives who feel outnumbered, Healy said this battle is worth fighting and is an election Republicans can win.

“We need all [Chicago’s McCain] supporters to be out there fighting just as hard as the Obama people,” Healy said.

After the election, Chicago’s conservatives plan to keep focusing on the issues.

“From a party perspective, we couldn’t be happier about the energy that is out there for this presidential cycle,” Roupas said. “We do want to keep these folks involved and engaged in the process and working on local issues after the election.”

A presidential election year tends to bring out people who are not usually as engaged in politics, but the Illinois Young Professionals for McCain hope to keep the momentum going, Healy said.

“We see this as a tremendous opportunity,” Healy said. “[The campaign] has brought out folks, and trying to keep them engaged [after the election] is the great challenge.”

Healy said he hopes that some people in this group will start thinking about running for office in Chicago. There are a number of races in Chicago and Cook County in which democrats run uncontested, which limits democracy, Healy said, because there is no competition.

“[We want to] start working our young leaders, who are fully capable, onto the ballots and hopefully they will start winning some elections eventually,” Healy said.